It is perhaps unfortunate that the title of The Lucy Faithfull
Foundation’s campaign, Stop It Now! sounds rather like that of the
NSPCC’s huge prevention-cum-fundraising campaign, Full Stop.
Unfortunate because people might assume Stop It Now! is a paler
version of the same thing, encouraging parents to beware, children
to take care and the public to assume more responsibility for child
But in reality the new campaign, launched under the umbrella of the
government-funded Wolvercote Centre (the Wolvercote clinic is now
defunct) and supported by the NSPCC, Barnardo’s, ChildLine and
others, takes a radically different tack.
It sees sexual abuse as “a preventable public health problem” and
wants it to be recognised as such. To that end it intends to offer
help to those who may be in danger of abusing children; those who
may not yet have committed an offence but fear that they may do so.
It hopes that they will either come forward and seek help of their
own free will or be encouraged to do so by friends or partners, or
that they will be referred by third parties.
John Brownlow, national co-ordinator of the scheme, points to the
behaviour change effected by public health campaigns aimed at
drink-driving, unsafe sex and smoking. He also says that child
protection currently embraces measures such as targeting at
risk-groups and helping children; the criminal justice system;
treatment; and support from agencies. As Fran Henry, president of
Stop It Now! in the US says: “At the moment we wait for children to
be abused and then society lines up behind them to help.”
Persuading potential offenders to take note of their own warning
signs, or encouraging others to do so for them, isn’t yet part of
preventive public health.
Such warning signs might be downloading pornography, or
inappropriate behaviour by young males that is too easily dismissed
as “boys will be boys”. The target groups for Stop It Now! include
people who identify themselves as potential abusers and young
people who exhibit sexualised behaviour – who may or may not have
committed an offence – and their family and friends.
The campaign has been imported from the US, where an agency with
the same name started work in 1995. Where it has operated – in
Vermont, Philadelphia and Minnesota – it has produced encouraging
results. For example, 15 per cent of callers to the Vermont
helpline were self-referrals.
The helpline operated as part of the UK campaign has been active
since June, but was only made public in September. It has attracted
90 callers who have made 187 calls. The same number of women (45)
have called as men. Thirty men, and no women, identified themselves
as abusers or potential abusers, 44 as family or friends, three as
neighbours and there were 11 professional referrals or requests for
information. Vermont, with a population of half a million people,
had 657 calls in the first four years but call rates have since
increased. Awareness of abuse and an understanding of the warning
signs have all risen among Vermonters since Stop It Now!
Stop it Now! will work predominantly through helplines, but will
also raise awareness and work with the media, parents, GPs,
teachers, and other professionals.
The success of Stop it Now! will largely rest on the number of
people who refer themselves to the project. While there are a group
of offenders (or potential offenders) who are compulsive and
untreatable, there may be a much larger number who find themselves
accessing child pornography over the internet and worry about it to
the extent that they will seek help.
That there can be a strong element of self-reproach and remorse
when it comes to child sexual abuse can be seen, most dramatically,
in the number of offenders who commit suicide while awaiting trial
or while serving a sentence. Thus, the Stop It Now! strategy rests
very much on people taking personal responsibility for their own
actions, being concerned about their own potential behaviour and
being willing to do something about it.
Those who have come forward so far illustrate how diverse the
people with whom Stop It Now! works can be. One man spoke to his
wife after twice calling the helpline, and then he and his wife
went together to the police and handed in his computer. A child
protection investigation was then launched with regard to their
children and he was cautioned. He continued to call the helpline
and received help from the Wolvercote Centre.
In another case a young man sought help when he became concerned
about his fantasising about young children. He had even cut himself
off from his friends when a friend’s young sister featured in his
“The ethos of the helpline,” says Brownlow “is that people contact
us if they are worried about something going on. We can help them
think clearly about taking action to stop, if that’s what is
needed, and about seeking further help. It is about callers taking
responsibility for themselves, their concerns and their
There is not much research evidence that there is a clear continuum
of offending, starting with downloading pornography and ending in
abuse. But an estimated third of those who abuse children also use
pornography, and Stop It Now! has also taken account of what people
on treatment programmes have said about how they got into
The Department of Health and the Home Office are funding Stop It
Now!’s core costs for three years. The Surrey branch of the
service, launched in September, is run by the Wolvercote Centre and
paid for by the Home Office, while the project in Derbyshire is
funded by the NSPCC.
The hope is that within six to nine months more projects will be up
and running. Thames Valley will probably be next, there are
steering groups in the west Midlands and in Northern Ireland, and
there are groups of people interested in extending the work in
Wales and Scotland.
Because of the sensitive local nature of sex offending work, Stop
It Now! is anxious to work through community groups, churches and
other faith communities, representatives from black and ethnic
minority organisations, and local businesses. It also looks to
partnership with official agencies: for example, a locally based
Sure Start project could be a partner because of its emphasis on
parenting. Stop It Now! places emphasis on public meetings to
attract not only local professionals and interest groups but also
ordinary members of the public.
“One of our challenges at the moment,” says Brownlow “is that we do
not have public health on board because child sex abuse is not seen
as part of the public health agenda.” One glimmer of hope is that
child protection is being placed under public health within primary
care trusts – but it is too early to see if this will mean that it
will be differently addressed. Health visitors, however, do see the
issue as being about public health.
Brownlow says that Stop It Now! is about changing attitudes. It may
say something about attitudes to child protection that it is the
first agency to make that its sole brief. The campaign aims to give
adults the responsibility for prevention, and by doing so, lift the
burden that falls on children.